China lost to Australia 71-48 in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian qualifier game in Melbourne on Sunday, although the result has no impact on the two teams' advance to the next stage of the qualification tournament.
China suffered a 26-3 blow in the fourth quarter, which came as a shock to most viewers who struggled to wrap their heads around the oddity that happened on the court.
Chinese players matched the Boomers so well on both ends in the first three quarters and established a seven-point and six-point advantage in the first and third quarters respectively. However, they suddenly ceased to know what to do when the final quarter began while everything worked in Australia's favor.
The Chinese players losing stamina might be part of the reason, but Australian players were putting no less effort than their Chinese counterparts judging by their crazy double-teaming of Zhou Qi. Somehow, the Chinese players lost their energy. They stopped to maintain the fast defensive rotation and failed to get the ball in every 50-50-percent possession.
It's true that the Australian team is stronger than China even without several of their NBA players, but what happened in Sunday's game was beyond that. The Chinese players showed no sign of falling apart in the first three quarters. On the contrary, their defense was tough but also smart. They made many reasonable choices on the offensive end, but could drive fearlessly when regular schemes didn't work.
Despite the loss and the incomprehensible fourth quarter, the Chinese national team showed a lot of positive signs in the first three quarters of the game. Zhu Junlong, who began to receive more attention during this stage of the World Cup qualification tournament, continued to display his offensive talents. He could clutch 3-pointers and knew how exploit his own offensive threat to create scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Zhao Rui who paired Guo Ailun as China's starting pair in the back court, contributed the best aggressiveness on the offensive end. Zhao doesn't have Guo's athleticism but he is more determined in charging the rim and seeking physical contact. Such a playing style will be very important against opponents at the same level with China.
And then there was Zhou. Though he didn't shine as much as he did in the previous two games on offense, mostly because there were always at least two Australian defenders following him in every possession, Zhou's presence on the floor was why his teammates could shoot more open 3-pointers than the opponents in the first three quarters.
Of course, when the Boomers let their guards on Zhou in very limited possessions, he immediately punished them by making a 3-pointer and a layup in the low post.
While Zhou left most of the offensive stage for Wang Zhelin and others, he maximized his defensive power. The blocks on his stats sheet couldn't show how lethal Zhou was on this end. His choice of switching, defensive coverage and extra attention to every player of the opponents turned him into the last defender any of the Boomers wanted to challenge on Sunday.
Simply put, no Australian player scored on Zhou's watch in this game.
China are playing Chinese Taipei in their last game of this stage of the World Cup qualification tournament on July 4.